I’ve written about the Grateful Dead at the Zoo Amphitheater in Oklahoma City before, and in a lot of ways, tonight’s show is the inverse of that 9/2/85 show. In ’85, the Dead played lights out but wasted a lot of energy on a sub-par setlist. Tonight, the setlist is very good on paper (especially the first set), but the playing is very meh.
This is one of those nights that just tends towards the sloppy. Shakedown Street opens the show and it’s hit or miss from the get go. Candyman does pretty well, but it’s followed by a messy Cassidy. Even Althea is unmoored, and it feeds into a Let It Grow that goes nowhere at the beginning and rocks near the end, but it still sounds thrown together without much attention to detail.
The Dead open the second set with Samson & Delilah, another rocker that doesn’t really go anywhere, mirroring the first set’s Shakedown. You can almost hear Jerry trying to get things on track by throwing a Don’t Ease Me In next, but the real corker comes when the band moves on to The Music Never Stopped in the third position. The first third of the song goes almost completely off the rails, but everyone fights off their demons and they rip a very enthusiastic (but sloppy – again) ending. The energy dips for Ship of Fools, and then it seems like everyone switches to cruise control for the rest of the night. Even the easy songs like Around and Around and Johnny B. Goode are not well played here.
Honestly, part of the issue might be the sound, which is disjointed and thin on both the soundboard and the audience recording. Brent has a tendency to drown out the other players at points, and Phil is almost completely missing, but if he were there, I have the feeling that it would just exacerbate the problem of multiple instruments playing different parts together poorly.
If this glowing review stirs your interest, you can check out the soundboard here: https://archive.org/details/gd1981-07-05.sbd.miller.109839.flac16/gd81-07-05d3t09.flac